MINISTRY BY THE SPIRIT RATHER THAN BY ORGANIZATIONAL ASSIGNMENT
Copyright © 1993 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
There are organizational problems in the Body of Christ, the Christian Church. The crux of the problem is the issue of man versus Christ as the head of the Body of Christ. This has been a problem throughout Church history. We have inherited two thousand years of human-directed church government.
A weight of tradition and precedent perpetuates the present system. We must in our generation make the transition from ministry by organizational assignment to ministry by the Spirit of God. We must make it possible for the Spirit to direct the churches.
There are organizational problems in the Body of Christ, the Christian Church. There are at least three issues that must be addressed:
- The operation of ministries and gifts by the members of the Body.
- The defining of the office of elder.
- The imposition of organizational assignment on leadership and ministry rather than the development and operation of Spirit-chosen ministries and gifts.
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (I Corinthians 12:11)
The crux of the problem is the issue of the head of man versus the head of Christ, on the Body of Christ. This has been a problem throughout Church history. We have inherited two thousand years of human-directed church government.
A weight of tradition and precedent perpetuates the present system. We must in our generation make the transition from ministry by organizational assignment to ministry by the Spirit of God. We must make it possible for the Spirit to direct the churches.
The Spirit seems to be saying it is time for the saints to pray for the restoring of the ministries and gifts of the Body of Christ.
The Scriptures teach us there will be an end-time outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28,29)
The end-time refreshing is referred to in the Scriptures as the “latter rain,” referring to the harvest rain that falls in Israel prior to the grain harvest.
Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God; for He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you—the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. (Joel 2:23)
Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning [of the Day of the Lord]; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter [harvest] and former [seed] rain to the earth. (Hosea 6:3)
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. (James 5:7)
The latter rain will be the greatest of all the demonstrations of God’s power, the most powerful witness ever given of the Kingdom of God. We believe the latter-rain outpouring is symbolized by the “two witnesses” of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation. The lampstands and olive trees of the eleventh chapter of Revelation are taken from the fourth chapter of the Book of Zechariah.
Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.”
So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:5,6)
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit.”
The Temple of God shall not be brought to completion by the efforts and talents of people but by the Spirit of God. The two olive trees signify a double (Elisha) portion of God’s Spirit abiding on the witnesses. The two lampstands are Christ and His Body, according to our understanding.
It appears that God’s people are ready neither for the end-time revival nor for the coming of the Lord. We must be built up in the faith of Jesus. We must grow to of maturity as measured by the stature of the fullness of Christ. The maturing of the saints is the forming of the second lampstand.
There will be a remnant in the last days, we believe, that will come out of the religious institutions, leaving these organizations void of the voice of the Bridegroom and the Bride.
“The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. (Revelation 18:23)
Christendom will be divided into a holy remnant, and Babylon (man-directed Christianity). We think the process of division already has begun.
The remnant of saints must be built up in the Spirit. Worldliness, sin, and self-will must be overcome and driven from the personalities of the believers. Love for the Lord Jesus must be greatly increased among us. We must grow to maturity. As we become mature, union with the Father and the Son and with one another will follow as a consequence.
The means God has given for the perfecting and unifying of the Body of Christ is the ministries and gifts of the Spirit of God.
And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. (I Corinthians 12:28)
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11,12)
The present-day operation of ministry must change from an organizational assignment imposed on leadership and ministry, to ministry by the wisdom and power of the Spirit of God.
The current pattern includes a presiding elder (termed “pastor”) who administrates the business of the organization and preaches and teaches from a pulpit. Some of the presiding elders are administrators, not actually pastors in terms of Ephesians 4:11; but all of them are serving as elders.
The reason the members of today’s churches do not grow to spiritual maturity (and it appears few of them grow appreciably in the Lord—even after many years of church attendance) is that the ministries and gifts God has given to the members of the Body of Christ are not operating.
They are not operating because they are not expected to operate. They are not expected to operate because the presiding elder, in numerous instances, is ignorant of the manner in which the churches are to function. The presiding elder of the local assembly may not only be ignorant of the mind of the Spirit but may be actively resisting what the Spirit is seeking to do.
Change must take place. We who are presiding elders under the present organizational system must bring the assemblies into the required pattern of operation. We must do so slowly, carefully, prayerfully, and patiently.
Such change cannot be made overnight, but change must take place if the remnant is to be prepared for the end-time witness and for the coming of the Lord in the clouds of glory.
It is apparent that the prospect of change from the presiding elder to ministry by the Spirit may make elders apprehensive who are accustomed to ministering to the flock in all areas of Kingdom work. But the required change need not be upsetting. If the elder is walking with the Lord he will serve the Lord in this new manner with the greatest joy.
The backslidden Christian assemblies of our day may not be willing to seek the Lord and make the necessary changes. Therefore division between fervent disciples and the lukewarm churches is imminent. A militant spirit is arising among the true Christians, being manifested in music that proclaims the war of Christ against the enemy—particularly the enemy in God’s people. Also, fiery persecution may be at hand.
It is not time as yet for the Church to attack the sinners of the world, attempting to force them to adopt the moral values of the Christians. Rather, it is an hour of preparation. Notice the period of preparation before the attack on Jericho:
“Pass through the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess.’” (Joshua 1:11)
At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time.” (Joshua 5:2)
The need today is for the believers to be circumcised, to make a covenant of holiness with the Lord.
The saints of today must be made ready for the attack of Armageddon and for other onslaughts the Lord may have in mind. We are not to rush out now in the enthusiasm of the soul or because of personal irritation with the practices of the ungodly. Even if we do call on Jesus to help us change the secular world we will be defeated and bring persecution upon ourselves. The sin of the world indeed is great but the Lord is not as yet signaling the attack on the evil in the world, only the evil in Zion, in the churches that bear His name.
Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand: (Joel 2:1)
Because we do not have a scriptural pattern of organization and government the people are apt to mill about in ignorance, not understanding the areas now undergoing judgment and the areas whose judgment will come in the future.
Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar [of incense], and those who worship there.
“But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. (Revelation 11:1,2)
The Christian people are becoming enraged because of the increase of wickedness in their nations. But God’s judgment (measurement) in the present hour is not upon the nations (“the court which is outside the temple”) but upon the fervent saints who are worshiping at the Altar of Incense. Those who are carrying their cross, denying themselves for the Gospel’s sake, are the first to experience the Divine judgment.
The elders and assemblies that love the Lord will flow with the wisdom and power of the Spirit. The remainder will continue in blindness until finally Babylon the Great (organized Christianity) is destroyed by the secular governments of the earth.
“And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. (Revelation 17:16)
The concept of ministry by the Spirit is that the several ministries and gifts in the assembly operate to build up the members of the Body into the Head. Widespread participation by the disciples requires a shift in the role of the presiding elder, the conventional pastor.
While the presiding elder still may be supported financially by the congregation and may be responsible for the administration of the business aspects of the church, he now is required, along with the other elders of the assembly, to guide the members into their roles in the Body of Christ.
The office of the elder is one of rulership. The elders govern the household of God.
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (I Timothy 5:17)
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. (Hebrews 13:7)
The importance of elders can be seen in the place they occupy before the Throne of God.
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. (Revelation 4:4)
No apostles or prophets are seen “around the throne” but there are elders in this place of honor.
Because the office of elder is one of rulership he must be careful not to dominate the people so their ministries and gifts are hindered.
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;
nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; (I Peter 5:1-3)
The elders are to serve God’s flock, not because they are compelled to do so but willingly.
The elders are not to be motivated by a desire for money but by the desire to do God’s will. The history of the Christian Church reveals that elders often are covetous and use their office to become rich. They have lived in finer homes than the saints under their authority, on some occasions, and have driven more expensive automobiles. They have expected to be treated as superior persons. They sometimes wear special robes and other adornments and sit in ornate chairs on the “platform.” This is Babylon, not Christianity. This was not the custom of the early apostles and pastors.
The elders are not to regard themselves as the lords and masters of God’s people but are to be examples of godly behavior. Again, the history of the Church indicates that elders are tempted by the desire to be elevated over their brothers.
Some elders have been dictators, insisting on governing the behavior of each person committed to their charge, requiring that the believer ask permission for every move he makes. In this instance, the Christian is kept under an unhealthy dominance by the elder.
While such close supervision may profit the new Christian for a season it rapidly becomes a detriment to the spiritual growth of the Lord’s disciple. The desire for such mastery reveals an unclean ambition and desire for power in the personality of the elder.
The ministry of the elders is to feed the flock and also to oversee the believers so they are not led off course. The elders are to watch for the welfare of the saints and encourage the development of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers in the assembly.
Also, there will be traveling ministries. The role of the elders is to ensure that the members profit from the traveling ministries God has given. The elders are not to reject the traveling ministries. The temptation always is present with elders to jealously guard their little kingdoms and not allow the Holy Spirit to minister.
The Apostle John was refused entrance to at least one assembly because an elder was seeking preeminence.
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. (III John 1:9)
We have traveling ministries today. They are termed “evangelists.” Some of them are true men of God. Numerous others are hirelings, going from church to church for profit, entertaining the saints. Traveling “concert artists” who “book performances” have no place among the remnant of warrior-saints who are desirous of following the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps the greatest conceptual issue to arise as we seek the development of ministry by the Spirit of God will be the understanding of the difference between the role of elder, and the gifts and ministries of the Body. It may be noted that while the apostles established elders in the various cities, elders are not listed among the ministries and gifts given to the Body of Christ.
The ministry of pastor-teacher is so close to that of elder it would be difficult to separate the two. The pastor is a shepherd. He is to lead the flock beside the quiet waters of God’s rest and guard against the wolves who would enter among the believers in order to destroy them. He teaches the Word of God, and demonstrates the Word by his godly example.
This is also the office of the elder.
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; (I Peter 5:2)
Peter implies that the elders are shepherds (pastors).
and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (I Peter 5:4)
Those who today are serving as chief elders, pastor-teachers, with their various gifts, are in line with the Scripture. However, the other ministries and gifts, particularly the ministry of the apostle and of the prophet, without which the Body cannot grow as it should, are not always recognized.
Babylon (organized Christianity) usually attacks apostles and prophets. This is why the Spirit says, concerning the fall of Babylon:
“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” (Revelation 18:20)
While there are many true men of God in the pulpits of today, there also are numerous administrators who want to dominate their group and have status among the believers. They may find it difficult to submit to the ministry of an apostle or prophet—particularly if such a ministry arises in their own congregation.
The truth is, elders-pastors-teachers have fallen into the snare of the devil. They are lifted up in pride over their brothers. They have gained an organizationally assigned position and would find it difficult to recognize the spiritual authority of a prophet.
The concept of elder, while closely related, is not identical to that of pastor-teacher. Any older Christian of proven consecration and wisdom may serve as an elder in the Body of Christ.
However, the ministry of pastor-teacher is given by the Holy Spirit. It cannot be gained by attendance at a seminary or Bible school; neither can it be imposed by an organization. It is the gift of God.
Some of the presiding elders (senior pastors) of today are evangelists or apostles or prophets, by calling. Some have a ministry of ruling, and are to practice their office with diligence.
he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:8)
The two different functions, rulership (administration) and anointed ministry, often go together as we have said. But they need to be separated in our minds if we are to pass from the organizationally imposed assignments of leadership and ministry to the development and operation of Spirit-chosen ministries and gifts.
The presiding elders (senior pastors) of today’s churches must go before the Lord and seek His guidance in bringing forth the ministries and gifts latent in the congregation. They must not be foolish or impractical, on the one hand, or unwilling to submit themselves to apostolic-prophetic spiritual authority, on the other hand.
The difference between the elder and the apostle is that one has authority over that which is seen; the other has authority over that which is unseen. Neither is to usurp or despise the authority of the other.
Under the old covenant, the elders had authority over the daily life of the Israelites. The priests had authority over the Tabernacle of the Congregation—over that which represented the heavenly Kingdom.
Under the new covenant, the elders have authority over the conduct of the churches, over that which can be seen with the physical eye. The ministries and gifts of the Spirit of God have authority over that which cannot be seen. They operate in the realm of spirits, by the authority of Christ.
It is not uncommon for the elders to encroach on the jurisdiction of the apostles and prophets, or for the apostles and prophets, and other spiritual ministries, to despise the wisdom and experience of the elders.
It is the will of the Lord that the elders rule well, and that the apostles, prophets, and other ministries that deal with the invisible Kingdom of God listen to the advice of the elders.
It also is the will of the Lord that the elders recognize they are not rulers of the Kingdom of God but are shepherds and overseers of the earthly realm.
As God restores the apostolic and prophetic ministries it is the duty of the elders to not hinder the moving of the Holy Spirit but to make it possible for their charges to experience all of the Divine virtue, blessing, enablement, and glory that the Holy Spirit is bringing to the churches.
If the elders refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to bring the Glory of Christ to their flocks, the Lord will judge those elders as unfaithful stewards and will remove them from their positions of responsibility.
The difference between eldership (government), and the Divinely ordained, anointed, priesthood, goes back to the days of Moses.
“Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; (Exodus 3:16)
There was no Levitical priesthood at this time but there were elders—men to whom the nation looked for authority, wisdom, and guidance. God recognized and honored the role of the elders of His people.
Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb. (Exodus 12:21)
Next we come to what probably was the origin of the Sanhedrin, the Council of Israel.
Now He said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. (Exodus 24:1)
So the LORD said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. (Numbers 11:16)
It is apparent in the Old Testament Scriptures that God recognized the existence of, and the need for, older, wiser men who were willing and able to bear before the Lord the responsibility for the congregation.
During the days of the Lord Jesus, the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish elders, administrated the affairs of Israel.
Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)
The chief priests and elders are referred to many times in the Gospel accounts.
The chief priests and elders of Jesus’ day had succumbed to the love of money and of political power. They represented organizationally imposed leadership and ministry, not ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had chosen Simeon and Anna to announce God’s Christ. The Spirit did not use the organizational leadership.
And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:26)
And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)
The rulers of Israel apparently did not recognize the Divine anointing upon Simeon and Anna. Because of their blindness to the things of the Spirit they rejected their Christ. Whenever the Holy Spirit brings an advance in God’s Kingdom, an advance that does not ensure the continuation of organizational leadership, the ruling administrators and elders will go to war against the Spirit. We know of no exception to this, and believe the warfare will commence anew as the Spirit announces His determination to raise up ministries and gifts among the members of Christ’s Body.
From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. (Matthew 16:21)
“Suffer many things from the elders.”
Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, (Matthew 26:3)
Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, (Matthew 26:59)
The chief priests and elders possessed authority over the conduct of the Israelites. Because of their envy they murdered Christ. They were unwilling to submit to the spiritual authority of the Lord.
And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. (Matthew 27:12)
For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. (Matthew 27:18)
Though the elders of Israel did not realize it, Jesus would not have interfered with their political status. His mission was spiritual. His Kingdom is not of this world.
So it is today. It is not God’s purpose to remove from the presiding elders their authority over God’s household. When God intervenes in spiritual matters it is that His Divine purpose in Christ may be accomplished, not that government be overthrown.
Jewish elders and Christian elders often kill the prophets. Yet, a true, experienced prophet does not seek to overthrow the office of the elders. The role of the apostle and prophet (these two ministries often go together in the Scripture) is to keep the Church in line with the program of God. The role of the elder is to respond to the Divine direction and to oversee the implementation of it in the churches.
There were elders in the Christian churches from the beginning.
This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:30)
Instead of the chief priests and elders we have the apostles and elders.
And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. (Acts 15:4)
Peter was both an apostle and an elder.
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: (I Peter 5:1)
We notice the importance of elders in both the old covenant and the new covenant. We see also that there is a difference between the priesthood and the elders, and between the apostles and the elders.
The priesthood of the old covenant, and the ministries and gifts of the new, are different in kind from eldership. The eldership is the same under both covenants, but the priesthood of the old, and the ministries and gifts of the new, are not the same.
As we stated previously, the eldership tends to be occupied with earthly, visible matters, while the priesthood of the old covenant, and the ministries and gifts of the new, tend to be occupied with invisible, heavenly matters.
When God ordained the priesthood of the old covenant (Aaron and his sons and the lesser rank of Levites) the accent was on holiness. Emphasis was placed on the ordination of Aaron and his sons as being holy to the Lord.
“And when the tabernacle is to go forward, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall set it up. The outsider who comes near shall be put to death. (Numbers 1:51)
“And you shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and put the hats on them. The priesthood shall be theirs for a perpetual statute. So you shall consecrate Aaron and his sons. (Exodus 29:9)
“So I will consecrate the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. I will also consecrate both Aaron and his sons to minister to Me as priests. (Exodus 29:44)
No elder at any time was set apart as holy in this manner. An elder always is chosen on the basis of his proven experience and wisdom. He is appointed by someone such as Moses or the Apostle Paul who has a Divine commission. A gift or ministry, by contrast, may be given by the Holy Spirit to a novice. Eldership is not a gift, it is a product of experience. But the gift of discernment or the ministry of a prophet may be given to a young, inexperienced believer, as in the case of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6).
Israel was warned by the Lord that the priesthood and the Levites had rights concerning the Tabernacle of the Congregation that were their exclusive privilege. An individual, including an elder, who presumed to minister in the Tabernacle of the Congregation, was to be put to death.
And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the LORD God.” (II Chronicles 26:18)
When Israel began to sin after the death of King David, the Lord used prophets—never elders—to declare His will to the people. The prophet always was subject to the Lord, never to the elders.
The elders feared the prophets—and with reason, because the prophets bore the holy anointing of the Lord.
So Samuel did what the LORD said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” (I Samuel 16:4)
“The elders of the town trembled”!
The elders learned of God’s mind from the prophets.
Now some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me.
And the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them? (Ezekiel 14:1-3)
The prophet did not sit before the elders, the elders sat before the prophet. The prophet was the voice of God to the elders.
God recognized the role of elder in the old covenant, and in the new as well. However, the role of elder was never set apart as holy by the Lord to the extent that was true of the priesthood. Under the new covenant, the apostles and prophets are set apart by Divine calling. Elders are to be ordained by the apostles.
So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:23)
The elders of today claim that the ministry of the apostle and the prophet ceased to exist at the close of the first century. By this reasoning the evangelists and pastor-teachers ceased to exist also. There is no basis in Scripture for the termination of part of the ministry given by the ascended Lord.
It is true rather that the established religious bodies fear the ministry of the apostle and the prophet because the presiding elders perceive these two foundational ministries as a threat to their position of rulership, as was true of the chief priests and elders of Jesus’ day.
The apostles and prophets are no threat to Divinely ordained government. Their purpose is to announce the current will of God. The church governments that refuse to receive what God is sending will be part of Babylon the Great, the worldwide Christian organization of the last days.
The ministry of apostles and prophets is essential to the proper operation of the churches. Apart from apostles and prophets there is no foundation on which the present work of the Spirit can be established.
There is a problem that has been common to both covenants. The elders who oversee and feed the flock attempt to govern also the priestly-prophetic ministry. Many of the elders have a problem with the “Saul” part of their personality. They are “head and shoulders” above the people. As God begins to work they may seek to infringe on the priestly office.
“then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”
And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. (I Samuel 13:12,13)
The elders see the glory of the priesthood and many desire the power and prestige of it. If this happens, the elders destroy the work of God. The chief priests and elders, moved by envy, delivered Israel’s Christ to Pilate.
The Sanhedrin, the Council of elders, slew Stephen—an Israelite filled with the Spirit of God.
Throughout the centuries of the Christian Era it has been the elders who have predominated. The efforts of the Christian leaders often have been directed toward building churches rather than making disciples of the nations and toward establishing and strengthening large organizations. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a Christian organization to function in terms of the ministries and gifts of the Holy Spirit. It must organize and function with elders—with those who work in a material-political setting.
By using seminaries and Bible colleges the leadership of an organization can control the theology and work of the organization. The positions of leadership and ministry are filled by graduates of the seminary.
We may have spiritual confusion when a young “minister” is assigned authority over a local assembly of maturing saints.
The Bible-school graduate, if he is young, is not an elder. He may by Divine anointing be a pastor-teacher or an apostle or prophet. The organization does not determine what he is, but they may give him charge over an assembly of saints, many of whom may need direction as they enter their ministry.
There may be in the assembly potential prophets and apostles who have been trained by the Lord over a number of years. Yet these are under the jurisdiction of the Bible-school graduate, an ambitious novice.
The young minister probably would not understand or be comfortable with the thought that his responsibility included the development and operation in the congregation of ministries and gifts of the Spirit. Yet he has been appointed by the organization as a presiding elder over the assembly of saints.
The imposition of leadership and ministry by organizational decree is one of the causes of the perpetual babyhood of the saints.
It is the Holy Spirit who assigns the ministries and gifts given by the ascended Lord Jesus. This is the Spirit’s special charge from God. In order to perform His task, the Holy Spirit must have elders who perceive their role to be the teaching and encouraging of the saints until the various ministries and gifts begin to operate.
The elders must be men of proven experience, not young Bible-school graduates. The youngster may be gifted and intelligent, but proven experience can be gained only by the passage of time. An elder should be older!
Such a change in operation requires that the elders be willing and skillful, and that the Holy Spirit implement the program with Divine wisdom and power.
In order to move past the pattern in which the elders officiate in every capacity, including the ministry of the Word of God, the congregation must enter prayer. The believers must speak in tongues more than they do, and then begin to prophesy.
It is hoped that from prophecy the disciples may proceed to the operation of discernment, the word of knowledge, the gifts of healing, and all the other gifts and ministries of the Spirit. There must be a sense of expectancy in each meeting that God will move among the saints.
There may be error, self-aggrandizement, confusion, false starts, and other problems, when participation by the saints is being encouraged. One means of handling such “danger” is for an appointee of the organization (regardless of his age and experience as a Christian) to preside as an elder, teach the Word, rely on music to occupy the time that should be given to participation by the believers, and keep unannounced events to a minimum. But God will not permit this pattern in the present move. The elders who refuse to encourage the members of the congregation to participate in spiritual ministry will be left behind as the Ark moves on toward the land of promise.
The elders will be tempted to “put their hands on the Ark” as it arrives on the scene in our day. The Glory of God is coming down the road. Let us remember the well-intentioned efforts of Uzzah. The Lord struck Uzzah, who was not a priest or Levite, because he touched the holiness of God.
And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.
Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. (II Samuel 6:6,7)
In every assembly of saints there are those who have been called and anointed to minister the holy things of God. It is the duty of the elders to assist the members to come into their place in Body ministry. The elders must be insightful and firm—understanding the mind of the Lord.
It is a cause for rejoicing on the part of true elders when mighty works of wisdom and power come through the members of the Body.
The elders of today, beginning to understand the problems elders have had through the centuries, often murdering the saints in order to glorify a denomination, must be on their guard. They must determine that they truly are serving as elders and are not, as King Uzziah, seeking to usurp the role of those who are anointed to minister the holy things.
The elder must realize he is not a lord over God’s inheritance but a servant—a servant who waits on the Lord and His people so those who are called to minister in the Holy Place may be able to perform their service without distraction.
It is time for the members of the Body of Christ to grow in the image of Christ and to experience the Divine unity of all those who are abiding in Christ in God. All of God’s elders must come to understand with utmost clarity that organizational divisions (denominations) among the saints, while they may have served and may yet serve a necessary purpose, were never part of the new covenant.
Because we are close to the coming of the Lord and the emergence of a Bride without blemish or wrinkle, the elders must be prepared to overlook their organizational loyalties when necessary and embrace all true members of the Body of Christ. All of the saints (not just “our little group”) must be prepared for their role in the last-day testimony of the Kingdom of God, and then be made ready for the Lord to come, for resurrection, and for eternal life with the Lord Jesus.
We of today are by no means a bride without blemish. We are, rather, a valley of dry bones. It is time for the Spirit of the Lord to create a holy army from the scattered bones of God’s people.
Both the glory and the tribulation that are at hand have a part to play in the maturing and unifying of the Body of Christ. First will come the latter-rain downpour of the Spirit of God. Then the burning sun of tribulation will arise to ripen the wheat. From the blessing and the suffering will come the perfection of spirit the Lord is seeking in the members of His Bride.
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers, miracles, faith, discernment, and everyone and everything else needed to bring the Body to maturity and unity, must be raised up in the Lord’s churches. The local elders must assist the believers in the development and operation of the ministries and gifts, as the Holy Spirit gives wisdom and power. Christ must be formed in us by that which every part of the Body supplies.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of [maturity as measured by] the stature of the fullness of Christ; (Ephesians 4:11-13)
(“Ministry By the Spirit Rather Than By Organizational Assignment”, 3638-1)